The spectacular, monolithic final movie in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is like a huge piece of industrial machinery: massive, grimly and brutally metallic, capable of lifting great weights and swinging the mightiest wrecking balls, but taking its time about it.
The Batman (even after nearly a decade, no one in Gotham forgoes the definite article) has now been absent from the city for many years, and the city is happy with the specious explanation that the authorities have provided: namely, that the city’s late District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) heroically gave his life fighting crime, and the Dark Knight, the arch-criminal, has slunk away. Billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne has gone into reclusive retirement: both are of course played with intelligence and no little charm by Christian Bale. But now two new subversive figures have burst on to the scene.
A slinky, sexy cat burglar, played by Anne Hathaway, shows up in disguise at a charity fundraiser at Wayne Manor with lawbreaking on her mind. But more scary still, a sinister super-villain, aptly called Bane, is planning to lead an insurrection of underground warriors to destroy the city and take on the Dark Knight. He is a muscular slab of a man with an evil hold on his many followers, and with a hideous facial disfigurement, concealed by a creepy leather respiration mask. As played by Tom Hardy, Bane has presence and force, no question about it. But Heath Ledger’s Joker had more charisma, more style, a limber and nimble-footed wickedness. And the Joker had one particular demonic superpower that Bane does not have. You could make out what he was saying.
The film’s release confirms what early test screenings of sample footage reportedly hinted at. Bane’s animal snarl is often frankly indistinct. His voice sounds like Darth Vader shouting, while playing a bass accordion through a Harley Davidson exhaust pipe. There were times when I wanted Miriam Margoyles to come on, give Bane a brisk clip round the ear and say: “Come on, darling, en – un – ci – ay – tuh!” Well, there is arguably something bestially menacing in that very unintelligibility; actually, the voice clarifies later in the movie, though for me the problem with Bane is in any case not with his voice, more with his conflict with the Dark Knight, of which more in a moment.
This movie is operatic, crepuscular, portentous, a vision of apocalyptic catastrophe – and there are some great things in it. Christian Bale himself brings an interesting kind of wounded maturity to the double role, and Nolan elicits from Bale a performance which gives both Bruce Wayne and Batman a new life, as separate entities, by investigating their vulnerabilities and paranoia. When the Dark Knight returns, astride his extraordinary fat-wheeled motorbike, it’s really exciting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a terrific performance as the young, idealistic police officer, Detective Blake, and Michael Caine is a calm, shrewd, heartfelt Alfred. Hathaway has a lovely line when some boorish male presumes to sneer at her fantastic high heels. “Do they make it difficult to walk?” She slices through his leg with one and replies pertly: “I don’t know – do they?”
But the film is clotted and extended with tiring and sometimes baffling subplots concerning the frankly uninteresting shenanigans of the Wayne Enterprises Board: there is some manoeuvring and personal petitioning from one Miranda Tate, played by Marion Cotillard, who shows herself in later sequences to be not a natural action performer.
And I have to say I found Bane disappointing: his character promised much, but didn’t quite deliver. The Joker’s conflict with Batman was at partly a cerebral affair, a matter of outsmarting and counter-outsmarting, and Bale raised his game in confrontation with Heath Ledger, who gave us a genuinely evil movie villain. Christian Bale is good in this film, too, of course – arguably more interesting in some ways. But there is simply no satisfying duel with Bane, and it seems to be ultimately more physical, a shuddering, juddering sumo-contest amid a panoply of CGI detonations.
The Dark Knight Rises certainly confirms the weapons that Christopher Nolan can wield as a director: this is a big, brash, plausible movie on a self-consciously epic scale, a deafening superhero Bayreuth, taking place in a gloomy, almost physical smog of testosterone. It will certainly be a commercial smash, and you have to admire the confidence with which Christopher Nolan insists on the seriousness of the Batman mythology; he has thoroughly reinvented it, reauthored it and thought it through, in a way no other director has done with any other summer franchise. But I wish there was more yin and yang in the movie, rather than yin and more yin.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.